Safety Lapses and Fatal Accidents Amid Indonesia's Infrastructure Boom

A concrete mold that collapsed at the Becakayu Toll Road project in East Jakarta on Feb. 20 injured seven people. (Antara Photo/Aprillio Akbar)

By : Amal Ganesha | on 12:00 AM April 11, 2018
Category : News, Analysis, Featured, Transportation, Labor, Infrastructure & Development

Jakarta. Indonesia's infrastructural development has been marred by poor adherence to standard operating procedures and other human errors. In the past two years, 14 accidents were recorded, some of them deadly.

Most of the government's construction projects are developed by state-owned builder Waskita Karya, the biggest constructor in the country. Beside 18 toll-road sections across Java, it is involved in projects ranging from low-cost apartments to elevated roads.

Many admit the company has been overwhelmed by the workload.

In the most recent construction-site accident, a steel rod killed a passerby at Waskita's housing development in Pasar Rumput, South Jakarta, on March 18.

In early February, an underpass built by Waskita near Soekarno-Hatta International Airport collapsed killing one person. A few weeks later, a concrete mold at the company's Bekasi-Cawang-Kampung Melayu (Becakayu) Toll Road project in Jakarta fell, seriously injuring seven workers.

The company's stock price has been declining since.

"Waskita is the biggest construction firm, with the biggest workload, and that could be the problem. Other state-owned builders such as Nindya Karya or Brantas Abipraya can't be compared to Waskita in terms of assets and amount of work," Public Works Ministry's spokesman Endra Atmawidjaja told the Jakarta Globe in late March.

Right after the Becakayu accident, Public Works Minister Basuki Hadimuljono suspended 36 high-profile infrastructure projects for safety audit. Construction works at most of them resumed after eight days.

Measures to Improve Safety

Companies on average spend around 1.5 percent of their budget on ensuring workplace safety. This is not enough, the ministry's National Construction Safety Committee chairman Syarif Burhanuddin said in late February.

After the Pasar Rumput incident, State-Owned Enterprises Minister Rini Soemarno ordered dismissals in the company's board of directors. During a shareholders' meeting on April 6, Waskita's president director and two operations directors were removed from their positions. The company also created a new post of health, safety and environment director. As such roles usually are not often held by top executives, there seems to be serious attempt to reform and improve in the company's ranks.

Human Error

"Most of the recent accidents were due to human error, not construction failure," the ministry's spokesman said, pointing to unskilled labor as one of the problems. But there is also another big issue.

Noncompliance with standard operating procedures always stands out when accidents occur at construction sites, said a private consultant who requested anonymity.

"I've learned that contractors deliberately omit several SOPs to lower the costs, because infrastructure projects are normally very expensive ... For example in Waskita's Becakayu accident, I'm sure the company didn't hire a qualified supervisor, which was a fatal error," said the consultant who is currently working with the Ministry of Public Works on several projects.

However, both he and the ministry's spokesman confirmed that construction companies did not cheat on the quality of the materials they used.

"Contractors like Waskita must conduct quality assessment. They must be strict about it," the consultant said.

"There have been no construction failures, so I think it proves that our constructors don't save on materials," Endra said.

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